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Attention: Humans

                                                                       Attention: Humans

                                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

“People in our culture have a morbid tendency to avoid blame, because they do not wish to take the trouble to change their conduct in any way: blame-avoidance and blame-transference are therefore endemic amongst us. These are substitutes for repentance and renewal.”

BEHAVIOR RESEARCH PROJECT (Texas) 1951

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The Dalai Lama

He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven. Hindu saying.

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All comments welcome and provided a response.

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Humans, we recently became aware that one or more of your number published a plea that you no longer refer to solitary mass murderers as “lone wolves”.  While we wolves have not seen this publication and therefore cannot give it due credit, we, the wolves, wish to enhance the theme with information and thoughts by which you, with your self declared intellectual superiority might benefit.

First, we remind you that you are animals.  Oh? Think not? What are you then, plants? Stones? We find it curious that an animal which bristles at being called an animal uses so many comparisons to other animals.  You say someone eats like a pig, is stubborn as a mule, reproduces like rabbits, and drinks like a fish. Yet you say someone is brave as a lion, has a memory like an elephant, is agile as a mountain goat, sly as a fox, wise as an owl, and noble as an eagle. Even one of your classic civilizations credited us. Remember the legend of the two infant brothers raised by one of our female wolves? Of course, when the boys grew up Romulus murdered Remus and went on to found Rome. We suspect we should have seen that coming.  But doubtless you can think of more examples.

Second, as animals you, like any other species of plant or animal exist only through the relationship you have with your environment.  Sure, you have developed endless technology to intervene between you and the normal variations and processes in “nature”.  But in truth, you are the Apex Invasive Species, you are the Apex Predator on this planet.  You have spread your teeming masses to every livable continent on this planet, despoiling everywhere including Antarctica.  Your “pesticides” are found in the body fat of almost every species no matter where they are.  You claim to need these pesticides to assure your crops. Yet every year you throw out millions of tons of food before it ever reaches the market. Why? It’s not aesthetically pleasing. Or, you want to ensure high prices. Your plastics are found in the dead bodies of animals you will never see.

You came into our forests, thriving ecosystems for a broad spectrum of biodiversity, and you stripped them bare for an extremely narrow ecosystem you know as pastureland to raise cattle and sheep, animals which require huge amounts of fresh water and which emit even larger volumes of deadly methane gas.  You then force these animals into slaughter houses where, if they are subject to your religious laws such as kosher or halal, you slit their throats and let them stagger around in their own blood until they collapse.  Of course, most of you don’t do this; you allocate the dirty work to butchers who will wrap the meat in pretty packages for you.  You cannot stomach the reality of getting food for yourself. You eat some and throw the rest away. Our cousins, the coyotes, have long known they can subsist entirely on the dumpsters outside your restaurants and fast food joints.

You came into our forests to kill us when in fact you destroyed our food source and laid out a buffet of cattle and sheep we had little choice but to take our sustenance from. You gas our dens to kill our children so they will not grow up to sustain the balance with our prey animals such as deer and elk, animals you want to kill for your own amusement or because, having killed their natural predator they have become overpopulated.  You claim hunting is to “put meat on the table” when the money you spent on a hunting vehicle, fuel, high powered rifle and ammunition, hunting license and tags would keep meat from the local grocery store on your table for many months if not years.  No, you just enjoy feeling the power of killing an unarmed animal as in those “canned hunts” so popular in States like Texas. You kill an average of 96 African elephants a day, taking the ivory for trinkets and leaving the animal to rot.  You kill scores of rhinos yearly taking only the horn the powder of which you think will make your pitiful penises erect. You de-fin live sharks, leaving them to die a miserable death of starvation while you cook the fins for soup. You torture bulls to death, even setting their horns on fire for your amusement. And, sadly, the list goes on.

You raise populations of fur bearing animals, including “Man’s best friend”, in cages to electrocute them for your fur trimmed fashion garments and soft gloves made from dog skin.

You “introduced” us (we call it “returned” us) into parts of the northwest United States to show how good you are, how ecologically advanced you are. What happened?  The ecosystem quickly began recovering.  Streams that had become fast moving torrents yielding flash flooding and unsuitable conditions for fish, beavers, and a multitude of other animals began returning to a state which supports the balance of life. How so?  After you had trapped and shot us to near extinction the deer and elk were then free to wade into the wetlands, where they had been vulnerable to us as they sank a bit into the mud,  and eat the young shoots growing there.  Those shoots would have grown into the plants that stabilized the stream, keeping it from eroding the banks and making the water unlivable and dangerous.  As we returned, the deer and elk avoided those young shoots and the streams returned to a livable ecosystem.  And now you want to trap, gas, and shoot us again.      

Recently one of your “intelligent” hunters shot and killed a family therapy dog from ten feet away.  He claimed he thought it was one of us.  Apparently his only familiarity with us comes from the Big Bad Wolf type cartoons you scare your children with, just as the only familiarity so many of your self-styled “cowboys” have with cattle is the drawing of Elsie on their milk carton.

We know of no other animal which kills for enjoyment on the scale you do. You even kill each other in massive numbers.  You gut programs that help people live healthy and educated lives in favor of programs to develop even deadlier weapons for killing each other. No other animal on the face of this Earth is so consumed by and dedicated to the mass extermination of its own kind. No other animal on the face of this Earth claims divine sanction from some spiritual being as the justification for exterminating people who do not believe in or worship this particular being.     

For these reasons and many more we, the wolves, demand you cease and desist from calling your murderers, whether killers of a few or killers of many, “lone wolves”.  That is a despicable slander against our good name and against our long standing place in nature.  In fact, we can think of no greater slander than calling one of us “human”.

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Enemy of the State

                                                                   Enemy of the State

                                                                    by Marco M. Pardi

“It is not enough for a prophet to be inspired by God; he also must be informed about the world. The world and its fate are very dear to him. There is no hostility to civilization, only to its abuses.” Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) The Prophets, 11, 1962

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All comments welcome and each will receive a response.

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In discussing the Anthropology of group organization and the development of political systems I distinguished between Nation and State, a commonly overlooked or misunderstood distinction. Nation refers to people of the same or very similar background and values no matter their location relative to each other. Thus, Cherokee Nation includes people in various (of the United) States or elsewhere even if they never meet. It is their demonstrable and felt ethnic solidarity which places them in the Nation, not their presence within a geo-political boundary. There can be no Nation in which there are no people.

“State” is a geographically bounded abstract.  It can be visualized as a flow chart of power and responsibilities, with each position currently empty. So, if every person left the “State of Missouri” the State would not cease to exist. It would simply not be populated, just as the chart would not be populated.

As some, not all, human groups developed from egalitarian bands to council of elders led tribes and on to single person led chiefdoms they continued to State level.  However, the continuation included the personhood of the hereditary leader first seen at the chiefdom level. Hence, the evolution of the “royal family” be it kings, pharaohs, monarchs, or emperors.  This readily provided what seemed to be a natural conflation of the person of the leader with the nature of the State.  And as all power was vested in the leader, what was good for the leader was good for the State; the obverse, of course being what was bad for the leader was bad for the State. It did not take long for the “what” to be vested in a “who”. Who was good for the leader was good for the State, etc.  

That is, views whether supportive or opposing, do not spring to life sui generis; they are conceived, developed, and held by persons.  Those persons, then, are subject to judgment. And history provides a rich tapestry depicting the various degrees to which views could be freely expressed or in some fashion suppressed by “the State”.

My federal career spanned nine Presidents. Each was different, but the ones from one certain Party had one thing in common: they initiated and developed all out attacks on the free press ( every medium).  Several stations were threatened with loss of license. I first saw the media attacks with Richard Nixon’s henchman Spiro Agnew, later forced to resign for income tax evasion. I think this era saw the inception of the terms “liberal, left-wing media” into the American lexicon. And, of course, it was that free press which educated us regarding Nixon’s attempt to cover up Watergate (though the press did not discuss Watergate’s true purpose or who was behind it). 

During the Watergate investigation President Nixon’s “Enemies List” came to light. But this was a personal list, a list of people who, in Nixon’s mind, could do him political damage. There were no agencies or institutions listed. A strong concern at the time was whether Nixon would pressure the Internal Revenue Service to take action against his “enemies”. Daniel Schorr, an Emmy winning journalist and prominent name on the list, had reason to fear for more than his bank account.

Later, as the evangelical religion industry largely absorbed this political party, sharing some of its feeding with the National Rifle Association and, covertly, with various White Supremacist groups the free press was also branded as “secular and profane”.  Jerry Falwell, an architect of the mega-church televangelist industry crowed he had gotten Reagan elected. Fitting that another actor, Charlton Heston, who seemed to have never gotten over his role as Moses (Ten Commandments) became the leader and spokesperson of the NRA.  And emerging as the State “spokesperson” was, then in its infancy, FOX News, a consortium many have called The Voice of the 4th Reich.

Every subsequent president from that political party has criticized the national news media, with the exception of FOX News.  None have emerged as having kept a personal enemies list.  However, the message was clear when the man who was president during the September 11th Twin Towers attacks asserted boldly, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” That covered a lot of demographics.  In fact, during this time the Director of Personnel at a federal agency in which I served asked me into his office to review a document from the White House.

It enumerated a long list of the president’s priorities item by item with a space for the reader to sign each item affirming their allegiance to the president and his plans.  According to the accompanying paperwork, this was to be distributed to all personnel in that agency and returned to the White House.

I read it through and simply stated that my allegiance, as in my oath, was to the Constitution and to the people of the United States.  This document was a prolonged and exacting loyalty oath to a person.

The Director agreed and, after a few others expressed the same view, sent the document back that day. Not long after, spurious charges were leveled at the Director. Knowing my career was at risk, and why, I testified in closed hearing on his behalf.  Yet, he was unsurprisingly forced into early retirement.  The hearing was a sham.

The current president is long on record as placing personal loyalty to him above all other considerations in an underling.  And, as the underlings absorb this value they act in their turn. An example is Nick Ayers, a former Georgia Republican political consultant now Chief of Staff to the Vice President. As reported by Jay Bookman, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, during the week of this writing Ayers “urged top Republican donors to take out anybody in the GOP who dares to question or challenge (the President), a step that would pretty much complete its transformation into a personality cult. ‘”Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him. If – and this sounds crass – we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him.”‘

The attacks coming out of the White House multiply and expand daily. The United States has long been suffering from the It Can’t Happen Here syndrome. The drivers of this syndrome are clever enough to segment the threats in ways beyond the ability of many Americans to connect. Stand back a moment and consider the variety of daily news grabbers, from taking a knee to bump stocks to health reform to tax reform to N. Korea to the Iran deal to castrating the environmental agencies to giving religions the power to buy elections to silencing unapproved news outlets to stripping women of their right to control their own reproductive function and on and on. A mosaic should be forming. And the world has seen it before.  

The attacks on the First Amendment are stunning. The current president is threatening the licenses of the major news networks.  They tell the truth, showing in his own words how he contradicts himself and capriciously undercuts and insults the very people he put into office. So, he calls it “fake news”.

The drive to reduce or eliminate freedom of choice in reproduction is nothing more than a drive to ensure a population desperate enough to work at low wages without benefits or recourse. And, it ensures a ready pool of cannon fodder to further the Fascist aims of the Republican Party. Wrapping it in the guise of morals is a vile and simple minded hoax.

As clearly spelled out in the Constitution, the State is a structure, not a person. This State is structured to afford and guarantee the people (Nation) certain freedoms.  An enemy of the State is a person who wishes to destroy the structure.  As we see the daily efforts by the current president to regress into a society in which the Head of State IS the State/Nation, we might ask ourselves, Who is the Enemy of the State? 

Here’s to Females

                                                                   Here’s To Females

                                                                    by Marco M. Pardi

“Across the curve of the earth, there are women getting up before dawn, in the blackness before the point of light, in the twilight before sunrise; there are women rising earlier than men and children to break the ice, to start the stove, to put up the pap, the coffee, the rice, to iron the pants, to braid the hair, to pull the day’s water from the well, to boil the water for tea, to wash the children for school, to pull the vegetables and start the walk to market, to run and catch the bus for the work that is paid, I don’t know when most women sleep.” Adrienne Rich. (1929 -) Notes Toward a Politics of Location. 1984

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All comments welcome

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By now most readers know I take great interest in why people choose to use the words they do. That could easily be the subject of a major book. But recently the oaf some misguided Americans put in the White House called NFL players who kneel in protest during the national anthem “sons of bitches”.  I do not usually listen much to Trump’s speeches or news conferences. I can get more honest and intelligent information by listening to the toilet flush.

Son of a bitch was one of the first American slang terms I learned as I was listening for rebuttals I could use against those American kids who were incessantly calling me vile names for being from Italy.  I hadn’t yet discovered the term “mongrel” which would have more aptly described them.  Nor had I yet discovered the true meaning of “son of a gun”, a profoundly insulting term. So son of a bitch seemed exciting, even if off the mark for some reason.

But as I thought about it I wondered why people thought a female dog, or any dog, was so terrible. I decided these were people who had little contact with or understanding of dogs.  I think too, they conflated fictitious gender based myths with females in general.  I’ve had several dogs, some female, and had no problems with them. Okay, one greeted guests by taking a blood sample instead of a sniff. But she was really nice.

I think it is still far more likely that negative judgments about a female will be based on gender myths than would be the case for males.  This has been true for a long time.  While Trump was enjoying his 5th draft deferment, and defending against a federal lawsuit alleging housing discrimination against Blacks, I was explaining to my Anthropology classes why, overall, human females were “as good or better” than human males in most ways. We examined the myth of the “hunter-gatherer” and found that fecal analysis clearly indicates the diet of early Man was predominately vegetable, and only supplemented occasionally with meat, much of it likely scavenged from predator kills. Women and children dominated the gathering and food preparation, as they still do today in many societies. We looked at “higher” Primates for male/female patterns and found that while the myth gives us a dominant male gathering a female harem around him the realities of ethological studies show us multiple bonded females with a solitary adult male and a few juvenile males. The males serve only two purposes: reproduction and the discouraging of predators. In sum, the male dominated sciences, especially as laid out in text books, were slow in catching up to realities.  But, as might be expected of the times (late ’60’s and early ’70’s) the discussion turned to women in combat.

Starting with the basics, physiology studies of the time – the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, showed clearly that human females expended roughly half the calories as males in performing the most of the same tasks. So, using my recent military experience and knowledge of lightened weapons and gear, I expressed my preference for a female long range penetration team to “take the lead and eliminate sniper positions and/or enemy advanced scouts”. Women could go further on fewer calories (“An army travels on its stomach”); were just as good as men in marksmanship (a famous example among many being Lyudmila Pavlichenko with a confirmed 309 kills at Stalingrad); and were not at all squeamish at the sight of blood (the Israeli army quickly found that its female soldiers were far more likely to inflict brutal mutilations on captive and corpses alike).  Still, some insist they are inferior in hand-to-hand combat.  But those of us deeply familiar with such combat know speed and accuracy count for far more than blunt force. Women have it on speed and accuracy.

While I could not observe my students in hand-to-hand combat, or in marksmanship, I did observe their behavior at the sight of a human dissection. Are women really that squeamish?  The group of my Death & Dying students I brought to an autopsy was evenly divided male to female. Before the torso Y cut was finished one male passed out cold and two others were weaving.  Eventually all the males wound up on the floor.  The females, however, took advantage of the extra room at the table to press in for closer looks. So much for the guys who had boasted how experienced and tough they were.

Those who still have doubts about women in the military may want to take those doubts to U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Andrea D. Tullos, Director of Security Forces or U.S. Air Force CMSGT Tamala L. Hartz, Security Forces Directorate. They will certainly put concerns to rest.  If you send your concerns or questions to me, I will see that they receive them and I will send you their responses.

In recent decades we’ve seen an increase in the number of females in significant political and diplomatic roles. Of course, history enthusiasts can point to Boudicca, the Celtic warrior queen, Jean of Arc, or Queen Victoria but I am no historian.  I see various women in recent decades who have been brilliant in their political or diplomatic careers.  As I write this I think of a possible exception, Margaret Thatcher of the U.K.  I say that because she was so effusive in her praise of Ronald Reagan.  But my better Muses tell me she was playing to Reagan’s puppet masters, who scripted the coherent things he had to say.  

We could easily enumerate the women CEOs, still under represented in the male dominated business world, and the outstanding actresses, still cast in “supporting” roles.  And women in all manner of science, technology, engineering, math, the arts. But I think we are on message: There is nothing lesser about being female.  

What about us ordinary people?  Referred to a top medical specialist, do we look past her when a woman enters the examining room?  Seeing our Uber driver pull up, how do we feel on seeing it’s a woman?  And speaking of driving, which is more likely to scream at you, ram your car or pull a gun and shoot at you in traffic?  A woman? A man?

Okay, I guess I’ve made my point. But I still do not understand what is so terrible about a female dog. So I raise my glass (Tonic water & lime) to females everywhere, two and four legged alike though I would never refer to either as bitches. 

Natural Point of Aim

                                                                            Natural Point of Aim

                                                                               by Marco M. Pardi

                  

“There are no precedents: You are the first You that ever was.” Christopher Morley. (1890-1957). Inward Ho! 1923.

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All comments welcome

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True to the genre, self-help books are blossoming on the market.  The old saying, “Self-help books are like diet books; no one can have just one” definitely applies.  Now, if the book addresses a specific issue it may have some merit. But we periodically see books that purport to solve all our problems – so long as we perform the physical and/or mental disciplines advanced by the authors and do so on a daily basis.

I get really irked when I see the books which claim to guide us to our true identity, and worse yet, to our higher purpose. It is hard to escape the conclusion that these authors view the broad spectrum of humanity in conveniently categorical ways. (A diet book corollary claims one should eat according to one’s blood type. Aside from the gross misunderstanding of blood type, there is scant evidence that following the supposedly appropriate diet yields anything more than a placebo effect).   

When I see books which claim to lead us to our identity, and to our purpose in life I think of a favorite book from years ago, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.  The meaning here is obvious: enlightenment is a singular and ultimately personal event. I cannot tell you that you are enlightened; you cannot tell me I am not.  I do, however, respect those rare books which guide. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is a favorite. Sounds arcane, but it is precisely written without judgmental positions or implications. There are no tests, there are no diplomas.

For people who are put off by such exotic sounding fare I would reiterate a sentiment I expressed elsewhere: I am thrilled when I find that a seemingly narrow and context bound principle is indeed applicable in a variety of applications.  Two examples germane to this topic came from Marksmanship training and an Alcohol rehab.  

I had owned and used several handguns and long guns before receiving formal training in their use.  I had several times spent a week or so alone in the woods with just a handgun and a knife to feed myself. So, I was not altogether new to the techniques being taught.  But match competition entailed learning a particular stance. Imagine this: Standing in the firing lane sideways to the 50 meters distant target holding a .45 semi-automatic at full arm extension. As you sight in on 6 o’clock on the tiny bull’s eye you notice your arm quivering. What to do?  Answer: You swivel your head to face front, away from the target and you relax your arm as you let it rotate into a comfortable, steady position. That position is called your Natural Point of Aim.

Once your arm is steady you swivel your head to look through the sights.  But you discover your handgun is several inches to one side of the target. Do you move your arm? No. That would return you to a quiver.  Instead, you move your back foot, bringing your arm to align on the target. In short, your arm is in synch with your entire body.  Proof of this comes when the recoil of the first round returns your aim precisely to the bull’s eye without you having to do anything.  Hold that thought.

The second example developed when, years later, a college administrator asked me to assist him in bringing a fellow faculty member into a 28 day alcohol rehab program.  As we got her through registration and into her room she commented on other patients we had seen. “They seem in a lot worse shape than me.” The administrator instantly said, “Do NOT compare yourself to anyone else.” I had never heard him speak so forcefully. Obviously, those words stayed with me to this day.  For me, they carry meaning far beyond the single episode playing out in that room.  Comparison to others is not simply irrelevant, it is potentially very damaging either way: “I’m better; I’m worse.”  Instead, what I am is Different and preordained value systems do not apply.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were filled with popular discussions of Biology versus Culture, “Nature versus Nurture”.  In teaching Anthropology classes to young college students it was clear they were looking for an alternative.  One day I picked up a blackboard eraser and informed the class it was a 1911A1 .45 caliber semi-automatic.  I told them I had been given the task of shooting the pencil sharpener on the far wall, some 50′ away.  As I entered a common stance I could see the class was largely convinced; several students ducked as the eraser swung their way. I then explained the quivering of the “handgun” and proceeded into the exercise I described above. Then I invited anyone in the class to come up, take the eraser and, with my help, put their feet exactly where my feet were and see if they were on the bull’s eye. Of course the students realized that simply could not happen; each person is built differently, each person is individual.  (Yes, you can try this at home. It would be especially interesting if you had a twin.)

The fundamental point of the handgun exercise is simply that no Range Instructor can tell you exactly how to stand, no training manual can give you the 12 Steps to Success; you must immerse yourself in the holistic experience, the relationship of the bull’s eye to the barrel to the hand to the arm to the body to your breath and ultimately to the juxtaposition of what IS at that point in time and space. Only you will have that experience. Some readers will recognize this as the fundamental principle of Zen archery. I engaged in that practice for several years as well. 

The Nature versus Nurture debate is a false dichotomy.  Each person is not merely an expression of their genes but also an expression of their (culturally driven) life habits.  The easiest example comes from examination of the arm bones and muscles of professional baseball pitchers.  We can tell not only whether he was right or left handed but also get a good sense of the particular throwing habits and years in the game by the distortion of the bones and development of the muscles. The principle applies in every aspect of our lives, expressing the intermesh of biology, culture, and personal habits.  In the classroom case I encouraged the students to each find their natural point of aim in life and in so doing to discover themselves.  And, do NOT compare yourself to others.  In a classroom culture ultimately ranked by grades, this is hard for some students to overcome.

So, the risks with the self-help genre as I see it are the aforementioned strong tendency to divide people into pre-determined categories, with presumed maladies, and then pitch “solutions” to them.  This encourages people to seek others “like themselves” and, through comparison, determine if they are working the solutions correctly or, worse yet, if the others are doing it all wrong and need some advice.    

So, have I written a How To piece despite my disdain for such material.  I hope I have written, if anything, a guide, not a manual.  Ultimately one can recall the popular wisdom of the ’60’s/’70’s, “The universe is unfolding as it should” and dismiss every person’s orientation and behavior as the expression of their Natural Point of Aim.  While that is certainly possible it cannot be denied that some people live in chronic distress from their perception that they are missing the target they have selected. Perhaps this small piece helps.

NOTE: Moments after I posted this I was notified that my older granddaughter, a college Junior, had passed the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) on her first try. She was told her score was high enough for her to apply to the College of Medicine of her choice. What was her score? She will not tell anyone, even her mother. Why? Even though her younger brother is now in one of the highest ranked Colleges of Engineering and her younger sister is firmly on track to complete a B.S. in Physics very soon after her high school graduation, she does not want to establish any markers by which her siblings would draw comparisons to their own achievements.  I don’t know about you, but I consider this display of maturity a sure sign my elder granddaughter has found her Natural Point of Aim.

Decathexion

                                                                      Decathexion                                                                                                                                  (from Greek: Letting go)

                                                                  by Marco M. Pardi

                                                                       mpardi.com

“Desire is the root of all suffering” Ascribed to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.

“In the grand scheme of things, the vast majority of humankind will never know you ever existed” Me

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All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

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On paper, I have been retired from the last of my several intertwined long term careers since 2014.  I can recall living in Florida many years ago and picturing retirement as a vigorous day at the shuffle board court or, as I saw so often, a late afternoon on a park bench feeding pigeons from one paper bag and myself from another. Now, although I attend to my bird feeders daily, neither of those Florida options is appealing.

In a sense, we’ve been retiring from things, and people, all our lives.  This strongly occurred to me during my work with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, developing Death Education and Hospice Care in North America. Obviously, the focus then was on end of life issues, especially those pertinent to long term irreversible decline.  But as I thought more about decathexion (sometimes spelled decathection), the process of letting go of attachments, I began to see it in every phase of our lives.

As parents we watch our children lose interest in once favorite toys, we say they “outgrow” them.  All in the nature of things.  We move those toys to the garage sale pile or the donations pile, telling our children some other little boy or girl will have a toy. 

Sometimes those toys aren’t given up, they are taken by circumstance.  When my daughter was 3 years old the strap on a little bucket broke and her favorite tea set smashed to the driveway. The absolute anguish she expressed stayed with me to this day.  And, 40 years later I gave her a tea set I had found that was a close match. She had no recollection of the childhood set, but remembers the recent set as something from me to her.

Around the same time in her childhood she and I debarked from a train in Vienna very early one morning. Only after the train had left for Budapest did I realize I had left her favorite doll in the cabin. Despite the commitments waiting in Vienna, I rushed us to a toy store, waited for it to open and got her a little stuffed bear we named Orso (Italian for Bear).  Orso travelled with us through several more countries, eventually becoming Naturalized in the U.S.  Where he is now is anyone’s guess.      

Looking at the seemingly endless television coverage of terrorist acts, warfare, famines, wildfires, landslides, and victims of Hurricane Harvey I see the entire span of human life, literally from birth to old age. I mentally freeze frame the individuals, wondering what it is they feel they’ve lost. What were they attached to?  What did they presume the future held for them? No doubt the older ones have answers to their questions of causality.  But what do we tell the children? God’s will?  Man’s stupidity?  In Vienna I took what I thought was the easiest and quickest way out and told my daughter her doll had to go to Budapest.  Sure. Now answer “WHY???”

But even a 3 year old didn’t easily transfer from her doll to her bear.  And, as they age children lose the sense (some would say trust) that their adults have the right answers.  I’ve heard it said that the experience of loss, especially if suffered early, helps inure you against the worse effects of greater losses further on.  I have never accepted that, and do not now. Each loss has its own story, each is unique.  And, because each loss is unique it is difficult to categorize them.  A quick attempt might yield People and Things.  But no sooner do I think that than I think of the non-human companions who have meant much more to me than most humans I’ve known, and certainly all objects I’ve owned. These companions certainly weren’t “things”.  In fact, even a cursory examination of the concept, Mini-Death introduces us to a hitherto unrealized variety of potential losses. 

Recently I wrote a condolence card to a family that had to euthanize their dog.  In it I wondered at how we know we are likely to outlive our dogs and will likely face the difficult and painful decision they recently did, yet we adopt them anyway.  As old as I am, there have been several dogs, cats and horses. It never gets easier. But what would I lose if I decided to decathect from further adoptions?  I would lose a unique companionship and a mysterious bond I simply cannot find with another human.  I would also lose self respect; knowing I could save a non-human animal from confinement and death, and I did not. 

Watching television coverage of people fleeing their homes I see, particularly in the case of wildfires, people grabbing whatever is valuable to them and portable. Family albums are common.  But there are still people who cling to heirlooms, things passed from one generation to the next.  However, there seems to be an increasing trend among younger people to reject heirlooms, or to quickly sell them when they feel obligated to receive them.  Perhaps this is in some way an artifact of a consumer society in which the object you bought just yesterday has been replaced by a newer version before you finish reading the instructions (if you do).  People, at increasingly younger ages, seem quickly obsolete as well.

I’ve never been much of a collector, but there have been times I have had to part with things I might otherwise have kept.  Moving as much as I have that is unavoidable.  Once, while several thousand miles away, I contracted an auction house to completely clean out my four bedroom home and sell all the contents. What they couldn’t sell went to charities. Ever found yourself saying, “If only I had kept that”?  I’m well aware I parted with things for pennies on the dollar. So it goes – or went.

What about people?  When I was visible in the field of Death & Dying some people tried to fit me into the mold of grief counselor.  I’ve never been skillful in that area.  I do distinguish grief from bereavement. I do subscribe to the position that grief beyond a given time (commonly cited as 18 months) indicates an underlying problem not related to the subject of the grieving.

Short of physically dying, how about friendships? I’m guessing most readers have had “close” friendships that seemed to peter out and disappear over the years.  “I wonder what happened to old So & So.” At my age I increasingly find myself thinking of someone, and then thinking They must be dead by now. Long dead in some cases. I didn’t feel the loss. But surely some are still alive, and probably thinking I’m dead. And, thinking back I can remember the wildly popular sentiment in the 1970’s, “If you love something (someone), let it go.” That was a tough one.

In the past few years we’ve seen significant progress in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder.  Some of these were familiar to me, seeming derived from techniques used to move a person through grief.  Others, however, are new, especially the pharmacological methods. Propranolol has been remarkably successful at chemically washing out selected memories. I have vivid memories of decisions I had to make and actions I had to take.  Dwelling on these for even a minute can plunge me into the darkest blackness of soul I can imagine. I’ve spoken to no one about these, even my very dear friend Mark (Br. Mark Dohle).  But do I want to wash them away?  It’s tempting, but No. They are part of who I am and I feel they are part of the well from which I draw compassion and understanding for others.   

Yet, we do let go. We decathect from things and from people.  Perhaps there is some unspoken assumption “there will always be another”, the commonly said More fish in the sea. But the aging process is more intimate than decathecting from things and other people; it is also decathecting from functions and aspects of the self. Unless one dies instantly, decathexion from self will face each of us. In fact, a primary fear in facing death is loss of self.  A common question people express about what they hope is an “afterlife” is, Will I still be me?

The acceptance of the possibility that one is no longer the self one has come to know and love is the ultimate decathexion, the ultimate “test”. Serious evaluation of what we love and why we love it is a Life Curriculum, one for which there is no CLEP or cheat sheet. Know it or not, we are all in class.

What’s So Funny?

                                                                           What’s So Funny?

                                                                           by Marco M. Pardi

                                                                                mpardi.com

 “Humor: The ability to laugh at any mistake you survive.” Jerry Tucker. (1941 – ) The Experience of Politics: You and American Government. 1974

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All comments welcome

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When I was learning the American language I took interest in why certain words were chosen to represent certain ideas, etc.  I still wonder about that.  An interesting example is the term punch line. Was this the signal to punch the speaker?  The listener?

Somewhere I heard or read that most humor is based in tragedy. And then I discovered an area of inquiry into what, to me, is a far more interesting undercurrent: Why certain events, such as told in jokes, are considered funny.  Even in something as basic as a cartoon we are expected to find it funny when someone, for example, slips on a banana peel. No, don’t think of spinal injury or fractured elbows. Laugh.

Why laugh? Is it relief it didn’t happen to you?  I’ve heard people laugh after near escapes from what could have been a fatal incident. So we write that off as “comic relief”, or venting the stress.  But is that a reason to laugh when something bad happens to someone else?  To this day I cringe when having to watch a person present a public speech under what, to them, appears to be terrifying stress.  I don’t like to watch well meaning people struggle.

As a young, first time parent I took great interest in the varieties of ideas and events to which my daughter would be increasingly exposed as she grew.  I read several chilling psychoanalytic analyses of nursery rhymes and children’s stories.  And, remembering my own childhood of reading the newspaper comic strips, in my case as an aid to learning the American language, I looked again at these cultural icons.

It did not take long to form the opinion that in those comics which were supposed to be funny – as opposed to ongoing serial dramas – the male characters were almost invariably portrayed in a very negative light.  At the same time I happened to find myself in conversation with a retired, nationally recognized cartoonist. At first, he found my assertion puzzling. But, once we thought it through he agreed. Some of the examples I will cite go back further than some readers. And, readers in different locales will find comic strips not mentioned here.  But, just a few, brief examples were:

Lazy: Snuffy Smith; Lil’ Abner and male friends; Beetle Bailey; Sluggo – in the Nancy strip; Hagar; and Mr. Lockhorn;  

Drunkard: Snuffy Smith; Hagar; General Halftrack – in Beetle Bailey; and Mr. Lockhorn.

Dimwit: Dagwood; Snuffy Smith; Jon – in Garfield; Zero – in Beetle Bailey; Hagar’s sidekick;

Lecherous: General Halftrack; Mr Lockhorn; Killer – in Beetle Bailey

Dishonest/thief: Hagar; Snuffy Smith; the pirate crew – in Overboard; Cosmo – in Beetle Bailey.

Ineffective: Dagwood; Lute – in Hagar; Jon – in Garfield; Charlie Brown; General Halftrack.

In all of these examples the females were portrayed as more competent (but sometimes “ditzy”), but restrained in their opportunities to show competence, call out bad behavior, and put offensive men in their place.  Was this the adult world my daughter should come to expect?

Over the years I’ve watched the change in mass media portrayals of humor.  Even decades ago comedians were pushing the boundaries with material that could get them in prison. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin led the way, but each seemed consumed by their own private devils. What they were saying made people laugh.  But Lenny and George knew it wasn’t funny.

When I took a full time teaching post in 1970 a fellow faculty member asked if I watched All In The Family. He enjoyed it immensely.  I tried to watch one episode and had to turn it off.  Having, by that time, lived and worked in places where the bigotry we were to laugh at on screen was all too real on the street and in the homes, I could only sense outrage while others laughed.  My colleague had never once been exposed to any of that in real life.

My daughter and I watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street. I can still sing some of the learning jingles.  Of course, the dark Republican voices were already calling for the defunding of PBS, singling out Sesame Street as insidious Socialism. But they were stuck in a quandary: William Buckley was on PBS. They eventually elected Reagan but their real voice has emerged in this last election.  Hatred has replaced even “ethnic jokes”. Maybe that’s because hatred is no joke.

Once my daughter was in bed, I watched BBC programs.  Some of the best comedies were Fawlty Towers and To The Manor Born. There were others as well, though not serialized for long.  On American network tv Mork & Mindy was a great show, though there were characters with tragic circumstances. For my own reasons I enjoyed Get Smart.

Since then my life has not provided much time for television.  But I feel I am aware that some of the better and more thoughtful programs, those which challenge the “Conservative” views, do not seem to last long. With the current efforts to consolidate networks and providers it seems we will, in effect, be told what to watch.  And I assume that means we will be told what is funny and what is tragic. 

But I have recently found myself actually laughing out loud – without being told – in one area.  Every time the incompetent buffoon occupying the White House appears on television I laugh. And when he speaks I roar in laughter.  Could it be I’m sensing the tragedy at the heart of our current world? Could there be better proof that most comedy is based in tragedy?

But I must be clear.  Laughing at the symptoms of our demise does not mean accepting our demise.  I call out tragedy when I see it, and I join with others in challenging people to re-think what they take joy in. Perhaps an update of that old saying, Be careful what you wish for is needed: Be careful what you find funny.   

What Was That?

                                                                           What Was That?

                                                                          by Marco M. Pardi

“You want to know whether I believe in ghosts. Of course I do not believe in them. If you had known as many of them as I have, you would not believe in them either.” Don Marquis (1878-1937) “Ghosts” Archy and Mehitabel, 1927

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All comments welcome.  To those readers who have been hesitant to comment or ask questions, please be assured you may do so freely. In recent days several new people have signed on as followers, enabling them to comment freely, and it is hoped they will. All previous posts are open for comment by clicking on “uncategorized”. Reader participation keeps this site vibrant. MMP

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I have just recently been asked to consider presenting a video recorded discussion of ghosts and how different cultures through space and time have viewed them.  I was a bit taken back by this request.  In the years I taught college classes on Death & Dying and Critical Thinking – using end of life issues as the focus, I did not give much attention to ghosts. So, I thought I would try this venue for some thoughts and reactions….and maybe a little “in-spiration”. 

Requests of this kind have problems.  At any moment in time there are thousands of cultures. Each, by definition, perceives and constructs its world differently along a broad scale of possibilities.  Obviously, a statement about cultures would be selective and incomplete. Furthermore, cultures change over time and these changes are often reactionary.  Describing them as static entities is shallow and misleading. So, a complete and accurate presentation about cultural views on a topic would require many written volumes, many taped sessions.

A less obvious problem is the concept “ghost”.  What exactly is meant by this?  For example, Catholics believe the “Godhead” is tripartite: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  And, people of several faiths believe they see (or hear) discarnate figures pertinent to their faith.  Is an apparition connected to a faith not a ghost while an apparition not so connected is a ghost?  Then there are the actions attributed to these figures; “God kept me from going too fast around that turn.” “My Dad, several years deceased, warned me about marrying that person.” Which was the ghost, or were they both?

Where ideas about ghosts occur, they are part of a given culture and, as such, are enmeshed in the overall world view, including what we would call religion. The list of these world views, or cosmologies, is almost endless.

Each of the two problem areas above bring to mind two dicta to which I have tried to adhere: Any examination of others must first begin with an examination of the examiner; and, That which is perceived is at least in part an artifact of the perceiver.  In fact, the second dictum is rendered more potent in tandem with the degree of failure to observe the first dictum. 

So, as we examine our textbooks, be they history, anthropology, or some other related subject we are reminded that “history is written by the winners”, or at least the survivors.  There are several issues of importance here.  Written history represents only a tiny fraction of human history. And, there are still large areas of humanity for whom history is written by someone else.  So who is it telling me the history of how pre-literate or non-literate people felt or currently feel about “ghosts”? Are these the same people who used terms like “primitive” to describe pre-literate or non-literate cultures?  Are these people simply unaware that when developing mankind crossed into the Homo sapiens species they were the very same species we are today, with the same variations in mental acuity as we now see in a spectrum from our marginal people to our most advanced research centers or from our low I.Q. members to our geniuses?  A clear example of the failure to recognize this is found in the common attitude that if the material remains of a culture are simple, the culture and its carriers – the people, must also have been simple. This belief finds no support in anatomy, physiology, or psychology. Another example found even in today’s textbooks tells us the pre-Christian populations of what is now Europe were Pagans. Apparently, the writers of these textbooks flunked Latin.  “Pagani”, a Latin term specifically meaning country people, was a pejorative used in the same way modern Americans use the term “rednecks”.  There was no cohesive “pagan” culture or religion – another term for cosmology, much to the dismay of the modern Woo-Woo crowd that claims to be its descendants.  Anyone who reads the actual literature of Classical Greece and Rome knows fully well the educated, literate people of those cultures held world views which only acknowledged the common beliefs in various god like entities and discarnate entities but did not themselves subscribe to those beliefs.  Furthermore, the concept “gods” was very different from the later personified deity claimed by the monotheistic religions.  The “gods” of Rome were the core values of the State. Refusal to honor the “gods” was not an affront to the frail ego of a god, it was a threat to the integrity of the State much like the refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Remember, the philosophers and educated classes of Greece and Rome were not the ones who plunged the Western world into the Dark Ages. The “history” books were written by members of a predominantly Christian culture – the winners. And, (I can’t let this one go by) in my youth I saw several movies in which dark skinned people, be they African-Americans or “natives”, were uniformly terrified at the possibility of a ghost.  In fact, the actors seem to have been hired on their ability to generate saucer eyes and “OooOooOooh” wails. The producers of these films were urban Whites.  But have we seriously examined how these textbooks and other media have shaped our perceptions and interpretations?  If someone asked us if we thought ghosts were real, would our response be what we thought socially acceptable or would it be how we actually felt?

If there is a common denominator among pre-modern and contemporary marginal society world views and religions it can be found in the concepts of Animatism – the belief in an intangible force within all things, animate and inanimate, and Animism, a religious view of a life force in all living things, not just humans.  But these are not foreign to the most modern of societies.  Many people believe a force resides in some amulet, such as a religious medal, or even their automobile. And, a great many pet companions are certain their pet has a spirit, even one which lives on with them or awaits them after death. The inclusion of deceased pets in perceptions of “ghosts” is so common as to be unquestionable.  But aside from Stephen King novels, I’ve not heard of cars coming back for revenge while the literature on pets manifesting to beloved human companions is exhaustive.  Also, I have hundreds of cases pertaining to discarnate people and the evidence cited for their reality.  Some of these are undocumented but most are thoroughly documented with supportive and matching testimony often by multiple unimpeachable witnesses.  The report sources range from children to top of their profession scientists. The settings vary from spontaneous to hospitals to controlled settings.  Just in the United States there is unimaginable variation in the instances, the witnesses, and the circumstances under which the perceptions took place. So too, there are unimaginable variations in interpretation – and I am not even referring here to the materialists who, knowing little to nothing of how science operates, deny everything. I have read or directly heard interpretations of the manifestations ranging from: He doesn’t know he’s dead and hasn’t crossed over, she’s attached to the place she lived, he is looking for vengeance against his killer, she is watching over her grandchildren, he is looking for a vulnerable body to enter, to she has a message for us.    

In sum, I simply cannot venture into a discussion of a subject for which the variation is so great an adequate and properly contextual treatment would require several printed volumes or many hours of recorded video.  In fact, even an extremely narrowed subject topic would, in my opinion, run intolerable risk of misrepresenting the seriousness of the subject as a whole.

What do you think?